Sunday, October 4, 2009

From the "Iron Horse" to "T.O.": The Lack of Originality/Creativity in Today’s Sports Nicknames and American Literacy

Twinkletoes, Crazy Legs, the Night Train, Cool Papa, Oil Can, Mr. October, the Babe, the Hammer, the Horse, the Big Dipper, Iron Head, Pudge, Primetime, Sweetness, Air, Magic… Much of the color and panache of professional sports comes from the long-standing tradition (“Cy” Young) of applying endearing (and often quite telling) nicknames to star players. A cleverly conceived nickname provides a player with a certain aura, mystique, and sense of familiarity that is hard to attain otherwise. There is often even an apocryphal myth of origin, knowledge of which ensures a fan’s status as an insider. What’s more, a nickname often showcases an element of a player’s game (speed, grace, power, agility) or physique (“Too tall”) that is as daunting to opponents as it is encouraging to the team’s faithful. However, où sont les sobriquets d’antan? Where are the good nicknames today?

Of course, there are a few solid pseudonyms in professional sports today: Kevin Garnett is the “Big Ticket,” David Ortiz is “Big Papi,” Randy Moss is “the Freak,” and, to leave the city of Boston, Jerome Bettis was, quite aptly, “the Bus” and Dwyane Wade is “Flash.” Kobe Bryant’s the “Black Mamba” is telling of his quickness and killer instinct but is, perhaps, too long, awkward, and off-putting for a successful nickname. At least, however, it is original. Shaquille O’Neal, one of my favorite players of all time in any sport (and inventor of Wade’s “Flash”), has a plethora of nicknames, some original (“Shaq Daddy”), some recycled (“The Diesel,” made famous by NFL hall-of-famer John Riggins), and some just absurd (“The Big Aristotle”) or transitory ("The Big Cactus" while in Phoenix). Early in his career, Shaq also adopted “Superman,” which brings me to one major complaint: the lack of creativity. Simply out of (self-)respect, you would think that Dwight Howard would avoid usurping the nickname “Superman” at least until Shaq retires, no?

Howard is, sadly, far from alone. There are multiple “Pudges,” a score of “Beasts,” quite a few “Kids,” and far too many baseball players capitalizing on Robert Redford’s “The Natural.” (Of course, it is not the players, but fans/sportscasters who are mainly to blame.) Worse, far too many players are lazily referenced by their initials—and even that is subject to copyright infringement! When you are Lawrence Taylor and the single greatest pass rusher in the history of the NFL, you can simply go by “L.T.” However, once claimed, initials should be off-limits. Fifteen years later, not even a former top running back (LaDanian Tomlinson) has a right to these initials—alas! What’s next, will we be gathered at the water cooler on Monday morning talking about L.T.’s amazing field goal against the Cowboys that propelled the Giants to victory—that being placekicker Lawrence Tynes?

Leaving K.G., K.B., D.T., T.O., L.B.J., C.D.R., etc., another mark of our lack of originality is the use of the cheap “First initial of given name + first syllable of surname” formula that has grown so popular. A-Rod (either Alex Rodriguez or Andy Roddick), T-Mac, D-Will, Q-Rich, etc. embody the sports-watching public’s laziness and lack of creativity. And, MeMo and CuJo are not much better. As a former athlete myself, I much preferred my nickname, “Big Truck,” offered by teammates, to the slightly-insulting B-Hud or B.H.

A larger, more significant question would be to ask whether or not this trend is due to society’s decreasing literacy—not necessarily that we can’t read, but rather we don’t read. Is txt-ing, tweeting, facebooking, etc. killing America’s literacy? “OMG, r u 4 real – LOL??????,” you may ask. Unfortunately, yes, I am. Upon originality, creativity, inventiveness, and initiative was America born. Hopefully, we are not squandering our heritage of American industry, celebrated by Whitman, for the eases and comforts provided by her modern technological bounty.


Corry Cropper said...

Not all the nicknames in the past were creative, either. Many German baseball players were nicknamed "Dutch," Irish ballplayers, "Mick," any player that was a little dark was called "Chief," etc., etc. So some of the 'sobriquets d'antan' are better off forgotten...

Robert J. Hudson said...

And, short guys were "Peewee," left-handers, "Lefty," redheads were "Red," etc. But, if you want to talk ethnicity, there was "Chink" for players with smaller eyes, "Indian" Bob Johnson, "Jap" Barbeau, etc. So, yeah, they're not all winners!

By the way, as dept. chair, do you prefer "Pops" or "Skip"?

Corry Cropper said...


Should I call you Doogie?

Robert J. Hudson said...

Update: Brent Musburger just called Rich Rodriguez "Rich Rod". Wow! The hits just keep on coming.

Oh, and as for nicknames in the office, just call me "Champ".